TobyMac, "21 Years" and Child Loss

I am always devastated when another parent discovers the heartache of child loss.

They are forced to join a club no one wants to join.

But I’m grateful when that parent has a platform because of fame, fortune or circumstances and decides to draw attention to the truth of this painful path.

The singer Toby Mac recently lost his son and has chosen to do just that. He wrote a song that puts words to the sorrow, words to the struggle and vividly shares the heart of a bereaved parent.

Here it is (grab a tissue):

While I don’t identify with every word in the lyrics, I absolutely identify with the deep pain of sudden loss.

Why would You give and then take him away?

Suddenly end, could You not let it fade?

What I would give for a couple of days

A couple of days

TobyMac, 21 Years

I have cried the same tears, begged for the same answers, dug deep to find strength when I wanted to lie down and give up.

Thousands of parents walk around every day carrying a burden most say they would never be able to carry.

But you do.

Because there’s no alternative but to get up and go on.

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Even when your heart is breaking, even when your legs feel like they will not make one more step, you get up, face the day and begin trying to put the pieces back together.

And you learn how to love a child that you can only hold in your heart instead of your arms.

Is it just across the Jordan

Or a city in the stars

Are you singing with the angels

Are you happy where you are

Well until this show is over

And you run into my arms

God has you in heaven

But I have you in my heart

TobyMac, 21 Years

Grieving Differently: Growing Apart or Growing Stronger?

It’s no secret that men and women are different.

It’s the subject of everything from romantic comedies to hundreds of books.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” and all that.

So it shouldn’t surprise those of us walking this Valley that our spouse may be grieving very differently than we do. But it often does. Because everything is amplified when it echoes off the high mountains on either side.

And just when we need it most-for ourselves and for extending to others-grace is often in short supply.

So differences become offenses and offenses stack like bricks to build a wall between us and the one person as intimately connected to our missing child as we are.

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Instead of holding each other up, we sometimes tear each other down. Instead of leaning in, we pull away. Instead of talking, we tune out.

Instead of crying together, we cry alone.

Even when we open up and try to address these differences it often ends in disagreement or is met with silence.

That’s discouraging.

I firmly believe that grief doesn’t really change the fundamentals in a relationship but it magnifies them. We all have cracks in our marriages. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect couple regardless of how lovely the photos might be.

Child loss makes the cracks more evident. What might be ignored otherwise, becomes unavoidable. Add gender differences to the load of grief and it’s no wonder many of us struggle.

So how can a marriage survive?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Admit that you and your spouse are different people. Your life experiences, gender and personality affect how each of you grieve. Different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
  • Purpose to assume the best and not the worst of your spouse. When he or she makes a comment or shoots you a “look” don’t immediately ascribe dark motives. It may be she’s having an especially bad day or he is tired or distracted.
  • Look for common ground. When you are both in a neutral environment and rested, ask your spouse what they need from you. Then listen without being defensive. It could be that seeing you cry upsets him so that’s why he tries to shut you down. She might long to hear him say their child’s name aloud. Even if nothing changes, sometimes being heard makes a difference.
  • Consider couples’ counseling. Having someone outside your immediate grief circle listen to and guide you through feelings, concerns and problems is almost always helpful. It might only take a few sessions to give you both the tools necessary to walk yourselves through the rough patches.
  • Talk TO your spouse instead of ABOUT him or her. This can be a hard one! I think we all need a safe friend or two who will let us vent. That’s healthy. But it’s not healthy to talk about our spouse to others in what amounts to a bid for support of our own opinions and prejudices. Gathering wood for the fire of offense is easy. Putting out the blaze (even if you want to) is hard.
  • Remember that when feelings fluctuate, commitment carries you through. Grief isn’t just one emotion, it’s a tangled ball of emotions. On a given day you might feel sad, disoriented, angry, anxious and despondent. All that emotional weight is added to whatever else you may be feeling about your spouse. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear and running away seems like the most logical answer. But it’s not. We can never run far enough or fast enough to get away.

There’s no magic to marriage before or after child loss.

It’s mostly work.

We can choose to do that work together in spite of our differences.

We can choose to grow stronger instead of growing apart.

****FULL DISCLOSURE****

My husband and I do not do this perfectly or even close to perfectly. But we are still trying. At different points in this long (almost) six years, we’ve been better or worse at all of it. So don’t think if you are struggling it means you can’t get hang on. Sometimes it’s by the tips of your fingernails, but if you refuse to let go, you can make it.

❤ Melanie

Repost: Absolutely More Than I Can Handle

We’ve allowed a lot of common sayings to rise to the level of Scripture in everyday language and that’s unfortunate.

Because many of them are just plain wrong.

And some of them are dangerous.

One of those I consider dangerous is this:  “God will not give you more than you can handle”.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/12/26/absolutely-more-than-i-can-handle/

It Gets Heavier Before We Grow Stronger

Oh, the weight of missing the son I love!

I thought I understood just how heavy it was the moment the deputy’s words sank deep inside and crushed my heart.

But I didn’t know the half of it.

You really can’t know how large a person’s absence is until you’ve explored the edges of the world without him or her.

When folks started coming up our long and winding drive, even though I knew full well he would not be among them, my eyes strained to see inside every car. When his friends gathered in our front yard, I couldn’t help looking through the picture window trying to make out his face among the crowd. When we walked into his now-empty apartment I thought surely he was in his bedroom, around the corner, just out out of sight.

But he was nowhere to be found. And the hole in my heart where he should be but wasn’t got bigger.

Those were just the early days.

In the weeks, months and years to follow I found everywhere I set my foot that followed a path we’d walked together, I missed him. When the next movie in a series was released, he wasn’t there to watch it with me. Family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduations all went on without him and my heart counted his absence.

From sunrise to sunset my heart marks all the Dominic-sized spaces in a day.

At night, dark stillness invites me to recite them.

But after more than five years, most people no longer see any tale-tell sign of this mama’s heart longing desperately for one more minute, one more hug, one more quick exchange of “I love you!”

I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of missing.

Daily exercise will do that.

And it IS a daily exercise-lifting the missing up on my shoulders or carrying it in a basket on my head like women hauling water from a well far away has taught me to bear it well.

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I still miss him.

I will always miss him.

Greater strength means I can shift the missing to make room for living. I can carry that weight and still find room to carry joy.

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Scripture Journal Challenge: Safe In My Daddy’s Arms

When I was a little girl my family made a yearly pilgrimage to the white sand and clear water beaches in Florida.

We were allowed to wade out on our own as high as our waist while the adults talked and sunbathed on shore. If we wanted to go deeper, even for those of us who were good swimmers, we had to wait for the grown ups to join us.

I have a vivid memory of one sunny day when the waves were rolling in and my six-foot-tall dad was standing neck deep in the Gulf. I was a little closer to shore and decided to join him.

My young mind didn’t do the math between my short self and his taller one and stepped off an underwater ledge into water way over my head. I panicked when I realized there was no way for me to save myself.

In a flash, Papa’s strong arms scooped me up and held me close.

As quickly as fear set in, it vanished because I knew he wouldn’t let me go until I could safely set my own feet down in shallower water.

My daddy wasn’t about to let anything happen to me.

I think about that summer moment nearly every time I read today’s verses.

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.

Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Isaiah 41: 8-10 KJV

God assures Israel (the nation) that He chose them. He cherishes them. He has called them and He will never forget nor forsake them.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that just like Israel, those of us who have been grafted in by the blood of Christ are also heirs together of these promises. (Ephesians 3:6; Romans 11:17)

If you have received the gift of eternal life through Jesus, you can be absolutely assured that God is your Father . He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He will always take care of you.

Fear is a reasonable response to a situation outside our control.

It wasn’t silly for me to be afraid when my head went underwater and I despaired of saving myself.

When God tells me in His Word to “fear not!” it isn’t a rebuke. It’s encouragement.

God is my Father, He loves me so He says, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed”.

Why? Because He is with me.

As soon as my dad’s arms reached around me, fear fled. I was safe.

And if my earthly father’s strength and love was enough to allay my fears, how much more should my fears flee in the face of the strength, love and power of my Heavenly Father?

There are so many times I am afraid in this life.

So many times when things are out of control and beyond my comprehension. So many ways life goes wrong and I feel like they will never be made right.

But when I stop and point my heart in the direction of these promises, I can hold onto hope in spite of my fear.

Because my daddy has his arms around me.

Scripture Journal Challenge: When My Heart Needs a Reminder

This time last year I was on the front end of a very lonely, very frightening three and a half weeks.

Each morning began with a sixty minute drive in Los Angeles rush hour traffic toward the downtown courthouse. My husband and I parked and then walked through metal detectors and past guards down a long, long hall to the courtroom.

Every day was one more eight hour shift listening to lawyers, witnesses and a judge as the events of several years were laid out first by one side and then the other. Questions aimed to elicit unflattering responses hit my husband hard.

The opposing counsel even printed out a couple of my blog posts trying to frame both my husband and his family as intolerant fundamentalist evangelicals who certainly didn’t understand how things were done in the progressive West.

Our fate was in the hands of total strangers and the whole time I couldn’t utter a single word.

I was not allowed to nod my head, smile or frown or even cry when I watched my husband recount our son’s death and the toll it took on him as he returned to the workplace and tried to do routine tasks while being challenged repeatedly by a surly , vindictive and manipulative employee.

Trust me, no television courtroom drama can prepare a heart for the kind of stress, uncertainty, mental anguish and overwhelming fear that a real encounter with the justice system evokes.

Sitting alone (my husband was sitting with his attorneys) I could only spend time writing out scripture, taking notes and trying to guess how all this was impacting the twelve jurors sitting mere feet away. Only nine were required by California law to agree in order to reach a verdict which just added to the uncertainty.

I felt oh, so weary, scared and forgotten.

One of the scripture passages I wrote over and over was today’s verses.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,

    you, Israel, chosen of God—

Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;

    God has lost all interest in My cause”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,

The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.

    His wisdom is beyond understanding.

29 God strengthens the weary

    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.

30 Young people will get tired;

    strapping young men will stumble and fall.

31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.

    They will soar on wings as eagles.

They will run—never winded, never weary.

    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40: 27-31 VOICE

The nation of Israel was feeling lonely and all alone.

Had God forgotten? Had He abandoned them? Didn’t He care they were at their wit’s end and the limit of endurance?

So Jehovah sends Israel an encouraging Word through Isaiah.

He begins with questions: “Why are you questioning Jehovah’s interest in your cause? Do you think after all we’ve been through He’s forgotten you now? Can anything be hidden from His sight?”

As I sat day after day after day, I had to remind my heart that no matter how it FELT, God was very near. We were not abandoned. Whatever went on in that room with no windows was not hidden from our Shepherd King.

The very next set of questions Isaiah poses is one of my all time favorite verses: “Hey Israel! Do you really not know that God is eternal, everlasting, all-knowing and all-powerful? Haven’t you heard He made the earth and everything in it? Do you imagine He ever gets tired, worn out, too stretched to intervene in the affairs of men? “

This trial wasn’t the first time in my life I needed to be reminded that nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight. It wasn’t the first time I needed reassurance that God is never too tired or too distracted or somehow limited by my understanding of who He is to reach down and give me a boost.

In the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I’ve had days, weeks and even months when, in my despair and grief, I forgot the truth.

The whole passage comes to a dramatic conclusion that leaves Israel (and me!) with no room for doubt.

Hey-God breathed into Adam and made a living man from dust. Sure, you may be tired and worn out from circumstances or age, but He can breathe life and vigor back into you too. Young folks seem nearly invincible but even they have limits. You just wait (expectantly, in faith, certain that He will show up and keep His promises) on Him. The kind of energy Jehovah will give you won’t run out. You’ll be like an eagle soaring effortlessly on wind currents higher and higher and higher.”

I’m here to tell you that God keeps His promises. His Word is sure.

I look back on those three weeks and stand amazed that I didn’t fall over from exhaustion and stress about five or six days in because except for surviving my son’s death, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was absolutely, positively God’s strength and not my own.

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of my readers are bereaved parents and probably share my testimony of days, weeks, months of utter exhaustion under the load of grief that child loss dumps on a heart. Can you identify a specific moment when you felt God’s strength poured into your spirit? Can you think of an event, holiday or date you just knew you couldn’t face but somehow managed to survive?
  • How can meditating on these verses help your heart hold onto hope?
  • What new insight does including verses 27-28 to this familiar passage give you?
  • Consider looking these verses up in at least three different translations/paraphrases and compare them. Does that help you understand them better? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God, I want to always remember that You are so much more than I can ever imagine or comprehend. Too often I try to circumscribe You by my limited understanding of how you work in the world. But You are too big for any box I try to stuff You into.

When I forget, remind me. When I doubt, strengthen my faith. When I feel alone, make Your Presence undeniably real to me. When I am weary, breathe new life into my spirit.

Thank You for patiently, graciously, mercifully dealing with me. Thank You for your everlasting, faithful love. You are a good, good Father.

Amen

*If you want more details about what happened last year, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/24/heres-the-post-ive-wanted-to-write-but-couldnt/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Sufficient Grace

Today, before I sat down to write this post, I was out running errands and made a decision due to traffic to go through a parking lot I’ve avoided because of strong memories associated with Dominic.

I was suddenly overwhelmed by grief even after five years on this journey.

The tightness in my chest, tears in my eyes, empty sickness in the pit of my stomach washed over me anew.

Time absolutely does not heal a thing in child loss. It only enables me to develop skills for sublimating the horror enough to walk around among the spared.

But one thing IS better now than way back then: I’m quicker to lean into the strength and grace available to me through Christ Jesus. I’m not as resistant to the idea that my weakness is no impediment to God’s work in and through me.

I’ve stopped asking for relief and now ask for grace to bear up under the pain.

Today’s verses are taken from Paul’s pleading with God to take away what many believe to be a physical ailment-perhaps pain or weakness in his eyes-and God’s refusal to grant miraculous healing.

Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him. 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I can imagine Paul’s conversations with the Lord.

“You know I’m really on fire for You, Lord. Don’t you think I’d be in a better position to minister if You would take this pain away? It’s distracting and, well, painful! If You will heal me, I can focus on the work You’ve sent me to do. “

~ Paul

I know it’s dangerous to put words in God’s mouth but I imagine (based on Paul’s own account) that God answered something like this: “Paul, you don’t understand that part of the ministry I have for you is a demonstration that My strength is what sustains you. I don’t want there to be any doubt about where the power comes from. I’m not going to heal you but I will give you enough grace to bear up under this pain.”

I don’t think Paul really thought that was great idea-at least not at first. But as he continued to walk with the Lord and experience that sufficient grace, he saw God was absolutely right (no kidding!).

I can attest to this in my own life.

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I was afflicted with a number of health problems that forced me to admit I was not capable of meeting every obligation to and certainly not every expectation of those around me.

I didn’t like it one single bit.

As a self-proclaimed overachiever it hurt my pride to ask for help. But God’s grace eventually worked it’s way into my heart and I learned that physical weakness was truly an opportunity to proclaim God’s provision and sufficiency.

When Dom left us, I was struck down in a whole new way.

But the grace I had learned to rely on for the strength needed to endure physical pain proved more than sufficient for even this awful heartache.

It is still enough.

God’s strength IS perfected in my weakness.

Not that my weakness makes God perfect. Instead it is my weakness that makes God’s strength undeniably and unmistakably obvious.

When I choose to reveal my brokenness, unveil my weakness and testify to God’s sustaining and enabling grace, I proclaim His sovereignty, His sufficiency and His love.

QUESTIONS:

  • When have you had to admit weakness?
  • How has God’s grace met you there?
  • Do you sometimes try to hide your brokenness? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think God is glorified when we allow others to see our weakness?
  • Can you list specific instances when you felt too weak to continue and God’s grace enabled you to journey on?

PRAYER:

Lord, my pride makes me loathe to admit my weaknesses and to reveal my brokenness. I would rather people think I’m strong and unbreakable. But that’s just not true.

Help me embrace my own limitations and turn to You for your limitless grace and mercy. Help me quickly acknowledge that it is Your Spirit that breathes life into my heart and soul and strengthens me to carry on.

Strip me of false pride and bravado that might conceal how very much I rely on You. Make my life an open declaration of Your sufficient grace.

Amen.

You think, dear heart, that you are forgotten because of your nothingness and weakness and poverty. This is the very reason you are remembered.

Spurgeon